There was the audience -- well over 2,000 people who made the switch from the sopping wet West Lawn of the Capitol to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Some came early and ate picnic suppers of chicken and watermelon right on the floor of the lobby. Others stood in long lines that stretched twice the length of the Center, and when the doors opened, rushed in to get choice seats.
Since it rained most of yesterday, at 5:30 in the afternoon the National Symphony management decided to move the concert indoors. After all, Robert Shaw was up from Atlanta to conduct the orchestra and a special Westminster College Summer Workshop Choir; there were four expert soloists, and no rain date available. It had to be last nigt or never.
So in place of the Capitol dome and the vista along the Mall, there were the compensations of the Kennedy Center. No amplification needed. The great organ to back up the orchestra and chorus in the prologue to Boito's "Mefistofele." Room in a pair of boxes up front for the added brass choir. And accoustics that gave the tremendous forces the kind of sound they could never have had out of doors.
The audience was rewarded with some wonderful music gloriously presented. Shaw opened with excerpts from the third act of "Die Meistersinger," with the chorus making a stunning effect in the song of greeting to Hans Sachs. He then turned to the Boito prologue in which John Cheek sang the part of Mefistofele with biting malevolence couched in superb sound.
American songs from various regions of the country mixed patriotic feelings and nostalgia in stylish arrangements by Robert Russell Bennett.
All of these led up to the overpowering closing, the finale of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven. Jean Herzberg, Jacqueline Pierce, Gene Tucker and Cheek were excellent soloists, each contributing unusual strengths in the taxing assignment, and the special chorus sang, as it did throughout the program, with fine, free, beautiful tone. Shaw gave constant demonstrations of his authority over the largest forces. He has a special gift for sustaining the basic rhythmic foundation in all that he conducts. His legendary flair in choral works made the entire evening one of growing excitement. The audience rose to its feet to salute him after the Boito and again after the Beethoven.
Thanks go to Tom Gauger for the natural ease with which he introduced the transplanted program.